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19th Jan 2019

English at risk as official EU language

  • Huebner: EU rules need to be changed for English to become an EU official once the UK leaves (Photo: epp group)

A senior MEP has said English would be dropped as an EU official language once the UK leaves the bloc, unless rules are changed.

"If we don't have the UK, we don't have English," Polish centre-right MEP Danuta Huebner told reporters in Brussels on Monday (27 June).

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Huebner chairs the European Parliament's committee on constitutional affairs (AFCO). The committee oversees the parliament's role on the UK's exit from the European Union.

Speaking in English, Huebner said EU rules allow member state to notify only one official language each, not two or more.

English is spoken in Malta and Ireland. But Malta notified Maltese as an official EU language and Ireland notified Gaelic as its official language. Only the UK had requested English.

Huebner said the rules are outlined in article 342 of the Treaty, which is based on a regulation that dates back to 1958.

But the rules cited by Huebner are not entirely explicit.

Article eight of the 1958 regulation notes that "if a member state has more than one official language, the language to be used shall, at the request of such state, be governed by the general rules of its law."

Some lawyers may have a different interpretation.

But Huebner said it meant that Malta or Ireland cannot also request English as an official language without first making a change to the EU rulebook.

She said any change would require a unanimous decision in the EU Council.

Huebner said she was confident all remaining EU states would endorse the rule change to accommodate English, which is also the main working language among the EU institutions.

"I personally believe that we will find unanimity to change the rule on this ... and then we will have from the Irish not only Gaelic but also English or from the Maltese not only Maltese but also English," she said.

EU will not press UK for immediate exit talks

EU leaders say there is a "very significant crisis" in the UK. At a summit on Tuesday, they will not press the British prime minister to trigger the procedure to leave the EU.

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